James Caan is at his very best as a tough, wisecracking professional thief trapped between Chicago organized crime families and corrupt police in this gripping drum-tight tale (Los Angeles).Michael Mann, who directed Last of the Mohicans and Manhunter and produced Miami Vice and Crime Story, wrote and directed this taut, visually dazzling heist -drama called 'the bestof that breed since The Asphalt Jungle by New West. Filmed on rain-slicked Chicagostreets, Thief captures the chilling suspense and human drama of professional crime with incredibly'realistic details...heist technology straight out of Star Wars and dialog with 'the gutter pungency of a wood-alcohol cocktail (Rolling Stone). Co-starring country superstar Willie Nelson and James Belushi ('saturday Night Live ), 'thief envelops you in its tough, doom-laden grip and never lets go (Newsweek).
's dark noir spaces are tinged with the neon palette that has become the trademark of director Michael Mann (Miami Vice
). This was his first theatrical film, and all the elements that characterize his later style (and this is a very
stylistic film) are dominant. Equal parts grit and glamour, the story is simple. Frank (James Caan) is a lone-wolf jewel thief who was, in his words, brought up "by the state." In prison he was apprenticed to a master thief, played by Willie Nelson. When Frank's successful career comes to the attention of an avuncular syndicate boss (Robert Prosky), Frank is offered (and accepts against his better judgment) a deal that should allow him to retire and enjoy the family life he covets. But the deal sours, and Frank is left to decide what his nature truly is, lone wolf or family man. Thief
melds its jazzy visual style with heightened realism: the jewel thief's tools of the trade are authentic, up to the 8,000 degree thermal lance used to cut through a nearly impregnable safe. Some of the bit parts are played by real-life, highly successful jewel thieves, who acted as consultants. And their presence informs the superb dialogue, as every word rings true. In one long, engrossing scene, James Caan gradually persuades the woman he wants to start a family with (Tuesday Weld in one of her most affecting performances) that they should be together. The film was photographed beautifully by Donald Thorin and further emboldened by the driving rhythms of Tangerine Dream. The DVD contains a very funny commentary track by the director and James Caan. --Jim Gay